So Planned Parenthood Sells Babies’ Body Parts: Is It a Scandal?

As you undoubtedly know, a group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) has made a series of undercover videos of high-ranking Planned Parenthood officials. So far, two videos have been released. In both, representatives of CMP are negotiating to buy fetal tissue in the form of intact organs from Planned Parenthood.

The videos have caused a firestorm of controversy. Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing and has denounced CMP for its campaign of “harassment” against PP. The pro-abortion lobby has fallen in behind Planned Parenthood. The New York Times editorial board issued a shrill denunciation of CMP in an editorial titled “The Campaign of Deception Against Planned Parenthood.”

A hidden-camera video released last week purported to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells tissue from aborted fetuses. It shows nothing of the sort. But it is the latest in a series of unrelenting attacks on Planned Parenthood, which offers health care services to millions of people every year. …

The Center for Medical Progress video campaign is a dishonest attempt to make legal, voluntary and potentially lifesaving tissue donations appear nefarious and illegal.

It is hard to see how CMP’s videos could be “dishonest” or “deceptive.” They show what they show. The organization posted the videos in full on YouTube. I watched the second one, a lunch with Dr. Mary Gatter, in its entirety. It is around an hour and 13 minutes long. You can watch it here. This video, like the first one, leaves no doubt whatsoever that Planned Parenthood is in the business of selling aborted babies’ organs to private firms engaged in research. Nor does Planned Parenthood deny doing so.

The debate over the videos has centered largely on whether such sales, as carried out by Planned Parenthood, are illegal. Under federal law, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 289g-2, it is legal to give or transfer fetal tissue, but not for “valuable consideration.” “Valuable consideration” is a defined term:

The term “valuable consideration” does not include reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.

Abortion critics have interpreted this to mean that abortion providers can’t make a profit on the sale of fetal organs. They then point out that the charges suggested by Planned Parenthood are varied, are the subject of negotiation, and don’t seem to bear any relation to the organization’s costs. If those charges are more than necessary to cover PP’s costs, critics argue, the transactions are illegal.

I am not sure this is the correct reading of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 289g-2. The definition of “valuable consideration” merely specifies that payments must be “reasonable” and “associated with” processing, preservation, storage, etc. of fetal tissue. Might a cost not include a markup, and still be “reasonable”?

But this focus on profit and legality is, I think, misguided. The law itself doesn’t make a lot of sense: it is OK to sell fetal tissue, as long as you don’t get a very good price. This is somewhat analogous to a law making it a crime to sell heroin in schoolyards, unless you give the kids a discount. Would anyone who is horrified by the CMP’s videos be mollified to learn that PP’s costs are such that the organization is only breaking even after all? No. What we are dealing with here is not an accounting issue.

The videos are, if not horrifying, certainly troubling. The sale of various baby organs–livers and brains, for example–is discussed in the most callous manner, over lunch, mixed with business and social chatter. The virtue of intact organs is recognized, and abortion methods are tailored to preserve them to the extent possible, given the necessity of killing the baby. In that connection, Dr. Gatter refers to using a “less crunchy technique.” Just about anyone not already immersed in the world of abortion on demand would be appalled by the callousness on display, which is why Planned Parenthood, the New York Times and their allies are anxious to denounce and suppress the videos.

But that isn’t the whole story. Now that its trafficking in body parts has been exposed, Planned Parenthood claims this commerce is little short of heroic: the body parts are used in ground-breaking, life-saving medical research. This is a substantial claim, which I am not qualified to evaluate. I believe that whether fetal organs have any unique advantages in such research is hotly debated, and I have no opinion on the merits of that debate.

What seems obvious, though, is that we are paying a price for our abortion culture. Many factors contribute to the coarseness of American life, but the ubiquity of casual abortion must be one of them. It was recently reported that among African-Americans in New York City, there are more abortions than births. Surely this is both a symptom and a cause of a pervasive disrespect for human life. If anyone doubts that the abortion industry contributes to the coarseness of American culture, all I can say is: watch the videos.

I would conclude that, unless the use of aborted babies’ organs is really important to medical research–and I mean really, really important–all commerce in fetal tissue should be banned, and proper, respectful disposal of such remains should be legally mandated. If the use of aborted babies’ organs is, in fact, of great medical value, then I think the price paid for them is immaterial, but records of sales and purchases of fetal tissue should be maintained to facilitate ongoing assessment of the value of the practice. And proper disposal of fetal remains not donated for use in medical research should be mandated.

That’s enough for now. CMP apparently has quite a few more Planned Parenthood videos, some of which we will soon see. So there may be more to be said before long.